As you can probably guess, I have absolutely zero sadness at the departure of Jerry Weast. Words cannot adequately capture the smarmy arrogance of the man. I had one final chance to catch him in action at the March 28 Board of Education meeting. An overflow crowd of parents representing various interests — including GTA’s Challenge Every Child campaign (do be sure to check out the online petition and read the 850 comments) — had turned out that evening. In the midst of public testimony, which people were trying to listen to, Jerry strolled in to tell the gathered crowd that they should be sure to show up at the County Council budget meetings to support his budget. Lame. Condescending. I short, you won’t find me at the Jerry Farewell Lovefest. (www.WeastLegacy.com. Really? So modest.)
So it was with great interest that I awaited the announcement of the new MCPS superintendent. This evening, with much drama, the announcement was made (pending Board Approval): Joshua Starr, Superintendent from Stamford, Connecticut.
Starr, 41, has three children and began his career in special education.
Since July 2005, Starr has been schools chief for the Stamford school district, which has around 15,000 students and 20 schools. He began his career as a special education teacher in Brooklyn and later helped guide reforms in early childhood education and gifted and talented education in the New York City school district, according to his career biography. Starr has a doctorate in Education Administration, Planning and Social Policy from the Harvard University.
Starr, 41, is married and has three children.
By comparison to MCPS, Stamford is tiny. Its entire gifted and talented program takes one webpage, this.
Here’s a link to the Stamford School Profile from 2008. 20 public schools. 3.6% percent identified as Gifted and Talented! That was all of … 529 students! Dr. Starr, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Connecticut News Teacher Talk blog ran a interesting series of stories about and interviews with Dr. Starr earlier this year. You can see them here:
- State of Stamford Public Schools – 2/1/11
- Stamford Superintendent a Supporter of IB – 2/4/11
- Starr: It’s the curriculum – 2/16/11
- Starr: I think we can find common ground – 2/22/11
This comment does not bode well for those interested in GT (from Connecticut News Teacher Talk blog):
…what you hear here from Stamford parents and teachers is the frustration of a group of people that want all kids to excel and not only the lowest group. We are in the process of alienating and shutting out our highest performing students and their parents.
The whole heterogeneous grouping movement and forcing higher achieving students to become academic role models to inspire lower performing students to improve academically serves only one student group.
I, as most parents, are not against heterogeneous classrooms. They are appropriate for non-core subjects. But for math, science, reading and writing it is a recipe for disaster. Especially if you consider the diversity of the Stamford school population.
Here’s some more skinny on gifted education in Stamford (from StamfordParents.com). (StamfordParents.com, meet Parents’ Coalition):
Gifted and Talented Program: the program that never happened agai
The gifted and talented program called “Extraordinary Learners Program” was cut in 2003/04 after nearly 10% of 2nd and 20% of 5th graders participated. Board members said it failed to serve the truly gifted students because the selection process became watered down, and some students were staying in the program because of parental pressure. So in early 2007 a new gifted and talented program was proposed. We have some kids who are very, very high achievers, and we want to make sure we have the right instructional environment for them,” Superintendent Joshua Starr said. “It’s a distinct educational need that a certain segment, albeit a small one, has.” The district will hire four teachers trained in gifted and talented instruction. The program would cost $575,000 next year and be geared towards 3rd and 4th graders. Albeit it never happened. As far as I know, is was cut out of the budget and there is no program in place as of now, to help the kids that are truly gifted and challenge them at an appropriate level.
In 2008 a 9 week long Math/Science Enrichment program was offered for students in grades 5 and 8. Students had to score in the 95th percentile and above on the 2007 CMT in math. Students would meet one day per week for two hours at Turn of River Middle School.
Uh oh, and here we really have it: Stanford Residents for Excellence in Education: http://stamfordree.org/. Looks like Dr. Starr was engaged in quite a nasty fight over “detracking.”
- Detracking in the Stamford, CT Public School System – Pablo Corcel Relincha blog 12/11/09
- Another View Regarding Middle School Reform – Stamford Advocate 1/14/10
- Forum sparks dialogue over middle school reform – Stamford Advocate 1/22/10
- Middle School Reform: Superintendent’s Response – Stamford Advocate 10/28/10
- Nasty tactic regarding mid-school reform unnecessary – Stamford Advocate 11/3/10
- Response to Stamford Residents for Educational Excellence - longer response by Dr. Starr
- 1/21/10 Forum on Middle School Reform at Rogers – the good, the bad and the ugly. Quote: “During the Q&A came some good news. In response to an SREE member’s question, Dr. Starr FINALLY went on record in front of a crowd saying that tracking and grouping are different, and that, for instance, Westover’s model of flexible ability grouping in math and reading is not tracking and gets good results. Pretty big breakthrough.
THE BAD: But then, as if catching himself for giving away too much, he continued down an unfortunate path, switching gears mid-answer to address tracking again. He said that many people in the community would like to keep the practice of tracking in place for the benefit of their own kids in the top tracks, with the side effect of denying kids in the low tracks (many of who are minorities) the opportunity to grow. This is a disturbing tactic — to make up a non-existent “other side” that is pro-tracking and then position their beliefs, agenda and goals in order to try to manipulate support. Unfortunately, given control of the microphone, Dr. Starr was left mostly unchallenged on this. And left unchallenged, it seemed plausible to some who have not been closely following the conversation..THE UGLY: When many SREE members in the audience raised hands to comment that no one supports tracking, and remind him that he even just said 5 minutes earlier that tracking and grouping are not the same and that grouping works, Dr. Starr abruptly cut off Q&A. Some of this dialog was covered in the Advocate’s article. One SREE member commented, “if this is how he treats the public, no wonder the teachers and administrators won’t come forward to voice dissent.”
- Dr. Starr quoted in Should Your School Detrack to Close the Achievement Gap? In the April Education Update feature, “Should Your School Detrack to Close the Achievement Gap?,” Stamford School District (Conn.) Superintendent Josh Starr discussed one of the barriers to community support for detracking: language. Being able to explain things clearly and simply—parsing for parents terms like differentiated instruction, tracking versus ability grouping, professional learning communities, and how tests will be used—is a vital, ongoing part of Starr’s work. “Without being too technical, parents need to understand what’s going to change and need to see evidence of their kids doing solid academic work,” he says.
Oh dear. So much for hoping to start off with a reasonable person on a positive note. Looks like GTAMC is going to have its work cut out for it. Challenge Every Child couldn’t have come at a better time.
On what was a positive note, Gifted and Talented Association President Fred Stichnoth was invited to take part in off the record interview of the Superintendent candidates. Fred has always been very forthcoming in his reporting of GT issues, and I look forward to his take on the new Superintendent.
UPDATE: There have been many more stories published, plus information gathered. GTAMC has rounded it up in an announcement here.